Heydi Gámez García, who was declared brain dead after attempting to hang herself, was taken off life support Thursday and died shortly thereafter, the family said.
Her father, Manuel Gámez, hadn’t seen Heydi in four years, since he sent her away from their violent hometown in Honduras to the United States. Heydi was granted asylum in the US, as was the father’s sister, Zoila, now 21.
But Gámez was repeatedly rebuffed by immigration authorities.
Heydi had been despondent about being separated from her father prior to her suicide attempt.
They met again last week, but it was not the reunion they had imagined; Gámez clutched the hand of his only child as Heydi lay motionless with a breathing tube in a hospital bed in Queens, New York.
Gamez has authorized the donation of his daughter’s organs. He said he did so because he saw many children in the hospital who needed them.
“Now that my daughter is no longer here, at least another life can shine,” Gamez told CNN affiliate Univision. “Hopefully one day I get to meet the person who is going to have her heart.”
Immigration officials released Gámez from a Houston detention center last week on a 14-day humanitarian parole “to tend to the matters of his daughter’s passing,” according to an order from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He is to return to Texas on July 27 to face deportation.
“Please forgive me for failing you,” Gámez said he would tell his daughter. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there… I never meant to leave you.”
Search for a safer life
Heydi’s short life is a reminder of the human toll of the ongoing immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border and beyond.
Gámez says Heydi’s mother walked out on the family when the girl was less than two months old. They have not seen her again. He says he moved to New York as an undocumented immigrant when Heydi was about one, leaving her behind with his parents in Honduras. He worked for several years on Long Island, where his sister, Jessica, had settled after being granted asylum.
In 2014, he says he was forced to return to Honduras after MS-13 members, angered over his father’s refusal to make extortion payments they called “war taxes,” shot and killed the 59-year-old man in the street. With the health of Gámez’s mother rapidly deteriorating, he said he worried about who would look after Heydi and his younger sister, Zoila.
The following year he sent Heydi to the United States, followed by Zoila. They were both granted asylum.
Heydi’s aunt Jessica Gámez, 32, says the girl adjusted quickly to her new life in the United States. She learned English in less than a year, did well in school and loved listening to music and visiting a local Chinese buffet.
Heydi spoke with her father almost every day, and she longed for him to join her.
Three times he crossed the US-Mexico border. The first two times he was detained and sent back to Honduras. The third time was just last month.
“Heydi was always asking, ‘When is Papi coming?'” Jessica Gámez says. “I would tell her to be patient. We’re doing all we can.”
Every failed attempt by her father to reach the US plunged Heydi into a deeper depression, her relatives say.
Gámez recalls a phone call with his daughter shortly before his final border crossing. According to ICE, immigration authorities apprehended Gámez June 1 near Sarita, Texas.
“She was crying, ‘Papi, you’ll never make it. They always catch you,'” he says. “I promised her, ‘Daughter, this is the last time I try and God will grant me the opportunity.’ But I got caught again.”
Gámez’s quest to join his daughter in suburban New York predates the Trump administration’s hardline stance on immigration enforcement, including family separations at the border and forcing some asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases make their way through immigration courts.
Gamez’ attorney told Univision Monday that they have requested help from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They plan to present a petition to allow Gamez to stay in the United States.
Gamez said his life is at risk in Honduras and he hopes US officials will be able to see that he can’t continue living there.
Gamez attended the wake of his daughter on Monday and will bury her Tuesday.
“I was not able to protect my daughter, what I wanted the most was to protect her,” he said.
CNN’s Laura Ly, Jessica Prater, and translator Sandra Sanchez contributed to this report.